Israel's Threat From Within


Home-grown fanaticism isolates the Jewish state.

A pair of recent atrocities by Israeli terrorists (which is what they must be called) underscores the futility of diverting attention from the country's oppression of Palestinians by emphasizing its pro-gay policies.

The fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Shira Banki at Jerusalem Pride, and the firebombing death of Palestinian Sa'ad Dawabshe and his baby son, Ali Dawabshe, in a West Bank village, point to increased Israeli fanaticism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appropriately denounced the attacks, but that is small comfort coming from a man who has done so much to stoke the extremism that led to the crimes.

The deluge of threats against Israeli President Reuven Rivlin after he condemned the violence demonstrates that vigils for the victims are not enough. The present situation disturbingly echoes the one 21 ago when a right-wing extremist killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as he left a peace rally. At the time, Netanyahu eloquently said that bullets would not be allowed to determine the course of government, but in fact they did.

Israel is isolating itself more and more, including from American Jews, and failing to address internal threats for which it has planted the seeds. Netanyahu's pledge in March never to return occupied land was not just an election ploy. Israel continues to build new West Bank settlements while knocking down Palestinians' houses and cutting down their olive groves. In light of this, expressions of horror are unconvincing.

As a longtime supporter of Israel, I am well aware that it has faced existential threats since its birth. I know there are fifty majority-Muslim countries and only one Jewish country. Israel is the nation that made the desert bloom, a democracy surrounded by despotisms. But 48 years into its occupation of the West Bank, the bloom has wilted. Israel has weathered many storms. But its settler movement is increasingly unhinged, and its alliance with America has never frayed as badly as it has under Netanyahu, whose aggressive interference in America's foreign affairs is unprecedented.

Despite Netanyahu's incessant efforts to stir up his right-wing base, he holds onto power by the thinnest of margins. This at least is encouraging. His portrayal of the heavily armed and nuclear Israel as a victim is as preposterous as his warmongering is reckless. President Obama's achievement in getting Russia and China to help stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons has not received the recognition and respect it is due.

Iran's rhetoric is far worse than its behavior, bad though it is. Israel's nuclear arsenal provides a strong deterrence. And Mike Huckabee's equation of the nuclear accord with the Holocaust is not just offensive, it is false. Peter Beinart writes in Haaretz of the 10,000 to 25,000 Jews living in Iran: "[W]hile Iran's Jews are not free, neither is their government trying to kill them. Three and a half decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran boasts perhaps 60 functioning synagogues, along with multiple kosher butchers and Jewish schools." If Iran wanted genocide, it could have started there.

I do not write as someone blind to unfair treatment of Israel. In 2006, I criticized leaders of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), who had called for skipping Jerusalem World Pride that year due to the Israeli occupation. I noted their selectivity regarding oppressive regimes, since IGLHRC reps went to Beijing in 1995 and to Havana in 1998. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has legitimate grievances, but if we can do business with China and Cuba, we can do business with Israel.

Engagement is needed, not boycotts. The deadly attack at Jerusalem Pride led to a meeting last week between LGBT activists and members of the ultra-orthodox Haredi community from which the attacker sprang. One gay activist said, "The problems start when people see the State of Israel as the embodiment of the Kingdom of the House of David, something religious and utopian. That's where the problems stem from, the joining of religion and nationalism."

Those words did not please some of the Haredim. But at least the groups have begun a dialog. Their future and their soul are at stake.

This piece originally appeared in Bay Windows.